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The Hill of crosses

The Hill of Crosses. The Hill of Crosses, or Kryžių kalnas in Lithuanian, is located 12 kilometers north of Šiauliai and is the Lithuanian national pilgrimage centre. There are hundreds of thousands of crosses standing upon a small hill that symbolize Christian faith, Lithuanian national identity and Lithuanians’ fight for freedom. Over the centuries, the place has come to signify the peaceful endurance of Lithuanian Catholicism despite the threats it faced throughout history.
The size, variety and the number of crosses is amazing – actually it is not possible to count them all. There are The Hill of Crosses. crosses that are three meters tall and countless small crosses hanging upon the larger crosses. They are beautifully carved out of wood or sculpted from metal. The crosses are brought by Christian pilgrims from all over the world. Rosaries, pictures of Jesus and the saints, photos of Lithuanian patriots also decorate the larger crosses. When the wind is blowing through the forest of crosses and hanging rosaries you can hear beautiful music.
Every year the Hill of Crosses is visited by hundreds of Lithuanians and tourists from all over the world. In 1993 the Hills of Crosses was visited by Pope John Paul II who celebrated Holy Mass here. Then the place became famous throughout the world.
The Franciscan Monastery was established near the Hill of Crosses in 2000. In 2001 this place was included in the List of UNESCO heritage sites.


The History
The Icelandic group visited the Hill of Crosses. The tradition of placing crosses on this hill dates back to the Middle Ages when the city of Šiauliai was founded in 1236 and occupied by Teutonic Order during the 14th century. This tradition probably first arose as a symbol of Lithuanians’ resistance to foreign invaders.
After the 3rd partition of the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth in 1795, Lithuania became a part of the Russian Empire. In 1795 Šiauliai was incorporated into tsarist Russia. Poles and Lithuanians unsuccessfully rebelled against Russian authorities in 1831 and 1863. Many crosses were erected upon the hill after 2 peasant uprisings against tsarist Russia in 1831 and 1863. After these two uprisings families of dead rebels were not allowed to burry their bodies, so they started putting up symbolic crosses on this hill.
By 1895 there were at least 150 large crosses, in 1914 – 200 crosses, and by 1940 there were 400 large crosses surrounded by thousands of smaller crosses.
When the old political structure of Eastern Europe fell apart in 1918, Lithuania once again declared its independence. Throughout this time, the Hill of Crosses was used as a place for Lithuanians to pray for peace, for their country, and for the loved ones they had lost during the Wars of Independence.
During the World War II Lithuania was occupied by Germany and the city of Šiauliai suffered heavy damage when Soviet Russia retook it at the end of the war.
From 1944 until 1991, when Lithuania became an independent state, Šiauliai was a part of the Lithuanian Soviet Socialist Republic and belonged to the Soviet Union. During the Soviet times it was forbidden to believe in God and go to church, so the pilgrimage to the Hill of Crosses served as a vital expression of Lithuanian nationalism. The soviets repeatedly removed Christian crosses placed on the hill by Lithuanians. Three times, that is in 1961, 1973 and 1975 the hill was totally destroyed by tractors, and the crosses were burned or turned into scrap metal, and the area was covered with waste. Following each of these desecrations local inhabitants and pilgrims from all over Lithuania rapidly replaced crosses upon the sacred hill. In 1985 the Hill of Crosses was finally left in peace. The reputation of the sacred hill has since spread all over the world and every year it is visited by many thousands of pilgrims. The hill remains under nobody's jurisdiction, so people are free to A view from the Hill of Crosses to the Franciscan monastery which was opened in the year 2000. build crosses as they see them fit.
Pope John Paul II visited the Hill of Crosses in September, 1993, declaring it a place for hope, peace, love and sacrifice. There is a stone inscribed with the words of Pope John Paul II: Thank you, Lithuanians, for this Hill of Crosses which testifies to the nations of Europe and to the whole world the faith of the people of this land.
In 2000 a Franciscan monastery was opened nearby, which we will visit soon. The interior decoration draws links with La Verna, the mountain where St. Francis  received his stigmata.

Franciscan Monastery at the Hill of Crosses

A view from the chapel in the Monastery to the Hill of CrossesIn the autumn of 1993, two weeks after his return from Lithuania, Pope John Paul II visited the Franciscan Sanctuary of La Verna in Italy and encouraged the Franciscan friars (munks) to build a monastery at the Hill of Crosses. The Franciscans immediately responded to the Pope’s urging.
The project of a hermit of Franciscan Brothers was designed by the architects Angelo Polesello and Nunzio Rimmaudo; the construction was administered by A. Jukna, Chief Architect of Šiauliai District. The cornerstone of the monastery was cut out of Mount La Verna and consecrated by Pope John Paul II. The founding documents of the monastery have been encapsulated in the stone.
The Franciscan Brothers of the Province of Tuscany contributed to the construction of the building standing 300 meters away from the Hill of Crosses. It was solemnly consecrated on 8 July 2000.The monastery has 16 cells, a chapel, and a library. It serves as a novitiate of the Lithuanian Franciscan province of St. Casimir, but the monastery is also open to the pilgrims who look for silence and peace.
The chapel is decorated with the stained glass of Algirdas Dovydėnas, representing the history of Franciscan friars, an expressive altar, a tabernacle and a pulpit (author: painter Rimantas Sakalauskas). The reliefs of the altar reveal an interface between the Hill of Crosses and Mount La Verna. While he was praying on the Mountain of Verna, St. Francis received the Holy Stigmata, the wounds of Christ.
A novitiate of the Lithuanian Franciscan Province of St. Casimir was founded in the sanctuary of the Order of Friars Minor (OFM, Franciscans). The Franciscan Brothers at the same time serve as custodians of the Hill of Crosses. The monastery can shelter worshippers wishful of quiet moments of concentration.
The chapel of the Hill of Crosses Monastery is open 8:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m.
The Hill of Crosses and La Verna link: the words pronounced by the Pope that the whole world, the whole secularizing Europe should go to pray to the Hill of Crosses and La Verna.

Works of Art of the Monastery and Their Authors
The monastery was designed by the architect Franciscan friar Angelo Polesello. The project The Monastery. was implemented by Leandro Rimmaudo Nunzio, the architect-restorer of the Sanctuary of La Verna. The altar of the Chapel of St. Francis Receiving the Stigmata, the tabernacle, and the pulpit of the monastery of the Hill of Crosses were created by sculptor Rimantas Sakalauskas. The author of the stained glass in the Chapel is Professor Algis Dovydėnas, Head of the Stained Glass Department of the Academy of Fine Arts. The stained glass on the left side of the Chapel depict moments from the lives of St. Francis and his first brothers, the stained glass on the right represents the origin of the Franciscan Order in Lithuania and the most important moments in their history.
The author of the altar painting “The Sermon to the Birds by St. Francis” is a Lithuanian Jew, Leo Ray, currently residing in Tel Aviv. The altar cross is a replica of the San Damiano Cross. Brother Carlo Bertagnin of Italy created the icons “St. Francis Receiving the Stigmata” and “Mary on the Throne” which are situated in the entrance porch of the Chapel. The sculptor Fabrizio Giannini created the bronze sculpture “St. Francis in Ecstasy” which is located in the courtyard of the monastery. Gintautas Kurmanskis’ Enterprise “Šiaulių kalviai” forged the Chapel gates and other iron works in the monastery and around it.